Okotokian creates unique online therapy for autism
Health: Mendability puts parents in charge of child’s success
Wednesday, Jul 17, 2013 12:23 pm
A child holds a stuffed bear above his head as he walks back and forth across a variety of hard, soft, squishy and prickly surfaces. Another child places one hand in a bowl of cold water and the other hand in a bowl of hot water simultaneously, then switches.
At first glance, it simply looks like child’s play, but in fact these exercises are designed to help children build a stronger awareness of their bodies and be able to process information faster by stimulating the five senses.
Okotokian Kim Pomares, who co-founded Mendability, developed the program as a home therapy focused on treating autism.
“Our objective is to solve the problem that everybody has with paying for therapy when you have a child with autism,” Pomares said. “The point of automating it was to keep it cheap, $1,000 a year versus it is horribly expensive to be doing other therapies. We can get parents to become therapists by getting computers to train mothers.”
Mendability isn’t strictly for children with autism. Christina Hall, who lives in Okotoks, signed up her four children for the program to help them cope with everyday childhood stresses.
“Our society is so focused on going to the doctor and getting a prescription and having medicine, that they forget there are other alternatives that are nonmedical and this one I have found it to be effective,” Hall said. “It gives you an excuse to spend some one-on-one time with your kids.”
Hall said Mendability has helped her children ages five to 11 deal with mood swings, calm themselves, sleep better and cope with stress. When Hall completed the exercises daily with her children, she said she noticed results within days.
Mendability takes users through an extensive questionnaire, which generates exercises to strengthen areas of the body from a database of more than 500 exercises. Parents complete various exercises throughout the day, each take between one and 15 minutes to complete. After the exercises are done, parents then record the results in Mendability’s database and every couple of weeks the exercises change to work different parts of the body.
Jadi Jackson has been using Mendability for almost two years with her five-year-old daughter Clare. Jackson’s daughter suffered a stroke before she was born and as a result has cerebral palsy and refractory epilepsy.
Jackson said using Mendability in combination with her normal therapies has allowed Clare to simple tasks such as move her right arm and tap the iPad for communication — tasks other children would take for granted.
“She is so much more aware,” Jackson said. “Before, even just touching her toes it looked like it could invoke a seizure.”
Pomares said many parents will see results in the first couple weeks, but recommended they try it for at least three months. If parents want to remove as many symptoms as possible, Pomares said they should think about doing Mendability for a full year.
The theory behind Mendability originated out of France by Pomares’ mother. He said she came to Canada to train nurses in hospitals to do this therapy, but she only had an idea and needed scientific evidence for validation. After extensive research efforts, he secured the money and scientific backing to be able to validate his mother’s theory and created an inexpensive version to make it accessible to everyone.
“You are looking at stuff all the time and that’s not therapeutic, that’s just you looking around,” Pomares said. “You need to focus the stimulus. It’s a lot easier to get to the point where your brain says I need to do something different because of what happened to me.”
In May, a six-month long study was released by Michael Leon, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, in Behavioral Neuroscience, in a bi-monthly publication by the American Psychological Association. He tested 28 autistic boys from the ages of three to 12 for the effects of sensory enrichment therapy. Sensory enrichment works by triggering the growth of neural pathways in the brain, known as brain plasticity, to make it easier to adapt to change and stress.
Researchers placed the boys in two groups based on age and autism severity. Both groups completed standard autism behavioural therapy, but the boys in the second group completed daily environmental enrichment exercises, such as smelling different household fragrances like lemon or vanilla to stimulate sense of smell or walking on bubble wrap and hard floor tiles to stimulate sense of touch.
The study found 42 per cent of the children in the sensory enrichment group improved when relating to people and responding to sights and sounds. Where as only seven per cent of the boys in just the behavioural group improved in those regards. As well, 69 per cent of the parents who had children in the enrichment group found the exercises also improved the areas of perception, reasoning and overall autism symptoms.
Leon is now undergoing clinical trials to include girls as well to further verify results.
Since business opened in May, Pomares said he has had at least 200 people register for Mendability. This therapy is currently not covered by insurance, but Pomares said he hopes it will be in the future. For more information, visit www.mendability.com.